America, as one of the world’s biggest countries, has a long and contentious past due to the mixed nature of its population. For more than a century since British occupation, it has been embroiled in world wars, revolutions, the modern age, and establishment. At the heart of all of these problems is racial discrimination. This problem has existed even before the Declaration of Independence. Following the abolition of slavery and the rise of civil rights activism, the issue of race has become a significant one in America. Despite the positive progression of this issue in America, it persists and is primarily based on historical processes such as the Harlem Renaissance to express its impact on society (Omi and Howard 56). The contemporary perspective of racial prejudice is astoundingly akin to that held during the founding of America. It has also, sadly, been masked is subtle albeit more insulting forms in the present day. Apparently, not every member of the American society enjoys its success and privileges even though this is what ought to happen. One can understand the weight of such issues as racial prejudice with the aid of such material as poems from the Harlem Renaissance. Let America be America Again is just one of the many poems that reveal the development of the approach to racial prejudice over the years.
Racial discrimination in America refers to the suffering faced by particular groups of people due to the judgment placed upon them primarily based on their skin color and culture. The concept has changed over the years with numerous activism processes of the twentieth century having pushed for recognition of equal rights of all citizens of the United States as per the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments are among the most crucial elements of this activism along with the abolishment of Jim Crow laws of segregation (Ansell 34). Through these years of protesting and pushing for human rights in America, notable changes have been realized. Initially, it was an open issue in which black people were viewed as inferior in every way apart from physical strength for which they served as slaves laboring in cotton farms. With the founding of an independent America from the British colonial rule, such concepts as human rights became achievable to the people of America, or so it seemed. However, according to the works of Langston Hughes, these efforts may not have appeared as genuine as they were made to look to the nation. As a black man, he wrote about the situation of America as a country where goals were set and decisions made to live together in unity but never quite implemented. At least not for the black man, whose active forced labor contributed to this achievement.
In Let America be America Again, the poet, Langston Hughes cries out the great hypocrisy of the nation in the condoning of racial prejudice within its society. Being an early twentieth-century poet, he did point out the issue at a very early point. Unfortunately, he would be very likely to have sung the same exact song had he been alive in the twenty-first century. Racism has only taken different forms that are no longer segregation and slavery but involve police brutality, white supremacy, white privilege, and apathy. These issues, Hughes pointed out at their infancy in an attempt to root them out before they grew even uglier. He wailed a warning that racial prejudice was at the core of a nation whose founders had been determined to lead by example and ground it well for the sake of the future. Indeed, men such as Abraham Lincoln did mention the equality of all people and their rights were jolted down by Thomas Jefferson. To a certain extent, even such jolting seems to have been less genuine than it was made to appear. Its execution makes it look like a complete joke seeing as America is unable to enjoy its dream because of its inability to unite in sharing it. It is a shame actually when one pays attention to the deeply melancholic poetry of Langston Hughes. This particular poem highlights a vast chasm between two worlds in the same society. On one end are those that enjoy America’s greatness as the rest of the world knows it, while on the other side, a desolate world of people who can barely afford to walk down the street without worrying about law enforcement. No these may not be criminals but fear only because of the color of their skins. What freedom is there for men such as these? And what sort of nation would one expect to find such anxiety, surely not the land of the free. Regrettably, the poet mentions that he finds no freedom in this land. It is for this reason, among others, that he grieves for America. Let America be America Again is a lamentation, after all, the words of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence include, so solemnly, the equality of all peoples at the beginning of their statements. After that, they maintain very controversial stances on the issue of slavery. One could argue that slavery had not yet been abolished at this point, but then it is the dream of a future that mattered, and that is something that could have been shared. One cannot help but feel the reluctance stretching into the future in the twenty-first century.
Langton Hughes did not write a poem that condemned his nation. Not once did he utter a word that showed detest for America. Rather, Hughes showed great faith and patriotism to the America that the founding fathers had dreamed about. He loved his nation and wanted to make the goals of its foundation a reality. The title Let America be America Again is indeed a song of freedom. It is the slogan of a man that knew the potential of this nation as one that could be a peaceful place where the minority by race could, in reality, be treated as humanely and respectfully as the majority. In this poem, Langston Hughes sought to remind the people of America that they had fought for something bigger and that they could live its reality. He ponders on the American dream as being something that would benefit all its people. Unfortunately, he admitted also to the dark reality of continued racial prejudice in the nation. While common racial prejudice is seen in police violence and brutality against black people and the general prioritization of white people, the former appears to have predicted this issue (Omi and Howard 57). In fact, the recent election of President Donald Trump pushes the matter even further. It has created such anxiety in the society and in particular among the racial minority groups following their association with crime and the rise of nationalism that increases already existing tensions in the country. The poem mentions the nation as a place where immigrants clutch onto hope. “I am the immigrant, clutching the hope I seek and finding only the same old stupid plan” (Hughes 20)
In Let America be America Again, the poet brings forward concerns that are not only in the interest of the black group of people but also the Native Americans, Latinos and ironically the woes of the white man (Ansell 21). All of these, he says suffer racial prejudice in the homeland of the free. The white man who sailed from England and Ireland for instance, meant to establish a home for himself in the new lands he sought out. This dream was supposed to be shared in a new America after colonialism (Outka 34). Langston gives a different perspective of the white man’s place in America as had been intended by those who claimed it. He possibly attempts to give a positive outlook for the sake of the dream that the founding fathers had and the interest of America. What would this nation be without all of the politics of capitalism and its aggression and apathy?
The American dream was created as a result of the faith that its people and leaders had in its ability to prosper. This virtue has earned the nation profound respect globally and allowed it to gain moral authority (Omi and Howard 49). Unfortunately, the later can easily be lost following the manner in which matters such a racial prejudice are handled. In the past year, for instance, numerous shootings of black people appear to have filled the news desks of America. As a result, protests on the streets and social media platforms followed. These campaigns against racist killings by the police triggered the Black Lives Matter campaigns that stirred very familiar feelings to those of Langston Hughes. In his poem, Let America be America Again, the man expounds that he does not feel as though he is part of this nation despite being in it (Hughes 20). In fact, he says, voicing out the place of a black man, which he was part of building this nation. He has been a slave working and toiling in the farms to help achieve the success that America has attained so far. In any case, he says that he bears the scars of slavery. Regrettably, these continue to be increased by other forms of racial prejudice including discrimination at the workplace and institutions of higher education. Langston Hughes attempts to encourage unity in America without which its foundation and dream for the future are useless. In the last sentence of his first three stanzas, he says “America was never America to me” (Hughes 23). This statement implies that the good of the nation is not something that the black man ever benefits from.
The plight of racial minorities in America has been so gruesome that they have only been used to build a nation whose fruits they never reap. Indeed, the fruits of this hard work, which has been contributed to by every member of its society only appear to benefit the white majority (Outka 59). Even these, in the opinion of Langton Hughes, do not quite enjoy it completely as they live in the guilt caused by white privilege and the occasional knowledge of the whole truth. No one appears to understand the place of race in America, and this has been used to crush down the weak and poor while enriching the wealthy and social empowering the strong even further. It is morose that the nation of America aimed at becoming the land of the free, yet according to the poet, freedom is scarce. The poem speaks of endless pain which unfortunately is evident even in this day with widespread racial prejudice (Ansell 78). He mentions leeches in this nation who take up everything that all others work for. Evidently, the country does not provide equal privilege to all its citizens. Rather, it prioritizes by wealth and race thereby placing the African Americans at the bottom of the list.
The most astounding fact about racial prejudice is its persistence throughout the years. It would be right to say that the election of Donald Trump and his inclination toward nationalism is yet another show off just how deeply racial prejudice has sunk in the society. While the two issues of nationalism and racism may be different, they do relate to one another in that they project a hatred for people who are different even when such people are beneficial to the economy and society of a nation (Hughes 64). While it is important to focus on what is beneficial for the society, it is not right to disregard those involved in achieving it. If America is to be salvaged, there is need to take into account the benefits that would arise from working on issues such as racial prejudice. For a nation that has achieved so much, there ought to be a greater advancement in fighting against these matters. America is, after all, the country that identifies with the ability to produce anything its citizens seek. It need only admit to the existence of evils such as racial prejudice and greed that aggravate the same.
Racial prejudice has been addressed since the attainment of independence by America from Britain. It has continued to be a very controversial issue following its changing nature over the years. It is akin to a disease that constantly mutates with every discovery of new treatment. The issue nonetheless, needs to be voiced even more loudly for the sake of a well-balanced society. There is hope despite the many years of being ignored that racial prejudice will decrease of not entirely cease in America. It is unfortunate that despite public demonstrations on this issue, it remains at the core of the society (Hughes 67). Numerous books have been written and even films made to address racial prejudice. In any case, it is well known that the legal system and its enforcement is capable of implementing this. All the same, it is important to encourage the participation of every citizen of this nation, their children, and grandchildren. It is critical to heed the words of men such as Langston Hughes. More importantly, is to realize their depth and what they point out and predict concerning the future of America.
Ansell, Amy Elizabeth. New right, new racism: Race and reaction in the United States and Britain. Springer, 2016.
Hughes, Langston, and I. But. “I, too, sing America.” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (1970).
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial formation in the United States. Routledge, 2014.
Outka, Paul. Race and Nature from Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance. Springer, 2016.